- 18 October 2017
- 3 min read
Could you work with sex offenders?
Diane Wills explains what her career in Social Work is like working with sex offenders.
"What's it like working with sex offenders?"
This is a question I am asked on a fairly consistent basis. My job can silence conversation rapidly with people looking awkward and mumbling things like, "That must be interesting/difficult/awful".
But, lots of genuinely interested people, sometimes student social workers, want to find out what it is really like.
The truth is, it is a real privilege.Like many other social work and probation professionals, I chose this career due to my natural tendency to support the ‘underdog’, and I wanted to make some kind of small difference to humanity.
Rapid policy changes have transformed statutory work beyond recognition, and it can appear that probation officers and social workers are reduced to a case administrator role.
Working with sex offenders provides an opportunity for the in-depth therapeutic work that lots of professionals in statutory services really miss.
Even when undertaking risk assessment work; potentially procedural and located within a risk management paradigm, there is still the opportunity to really listen to the narrative of a life which might be the only time someone has bothered to do so.
There is a rawness about entering those very dark places with someone; those deep-seated urges and fears that people have but rarely dare mention.
People also know intuitively whether you are prepared to hear this stuff or not.In this work, one cannot be squeamish about sex, including that which is considered deviant.
It is crucial to be comfortable in uncomfortable places, and that takes practice.Self-care is important. There are images both visual and imagined which are difficult to shake off, usually at the most inopportune times.
It is also entirely likely that this work means that some personal sexual experiences become reframed in a way which can feel distressing.
Conveying acceptance and unconditional positive regard to someone who has done something unbelievably appalling can have a cathartic affect; lots of us feel that we have some badness within us and so we might also be worthy of acceptance.
Some of the most talented practitioners with whom I have had the privilege of working have been wonderful, flawed people who also get things wrong.
One thing they all have in common, is that they value the imperfections in others, and they are not afraid of the dark.
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